Iraqi Shia volunteers who have joined government forces to fight Sunni jihadists from the Islamic State take part in a training session near the southern port city of Basra on Aug. 7, 2014.
Credit: HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI


GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: IRAQ UNDER SIEGE

UPDATE: 8/8/14 4:30 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. We will pick up coverage tomorrow.

UPDATE: 8/8/14 4:08 PM ET

US strikes Islamic State targets in Iraq with drones and jets

Agence France-Presse — US forces launched a second wave of air strikes against Islamic extremists near Arbil in northern Iraq on Friday, destroying a militant convoy and two mortar teams, the Pentagon said.

Shortly after 1400 GMT, US drones destroyed a mortar position and killed a group of militants. Just over an hour later four F/A-18 jets hit a seven-vehicle Islamic State convoy with eight laser-guided bombs.

View the Pentagon's full statement here:

UPDATE: 8/8/14 3:46 PM ET

More US strikes on Islamic State forces

From NBC News:

UPDATE: 8/8/14 3:19 PM ET

Islamic State's mysterious leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

GlobalPost's Timothy McGrath writes:

The Islamic State has pushed north into Kurdistan and is threatening to exterminate an entire religious-ethnic group, the Yezidis, whom some Sunni Muslims consider "devil worshippers."

Thousands of Yazidis have fled to the mountains, where they are dying from dehydration and exposure. Along with airstrikes, the US is dropping food and water.

So who's running this show? That would be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a business dominated by charismatic, propaganda-loving, AK-47-toting figureheads like Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an unusual leader — a recluse who has maintained operational control of the Islamic State despite some of his deputies having never met him in person.

So who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Here's everything we know so far.


(AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 8/8/14 2:42 PM ET

The Yazidi community is one of many groups under severe threat in Iraq

There are disturbing reports coming in of Yazidi women being kidnapped by Islamic State militants: 

Last week, GlobalPost's Tracey Shelton reported from Lalish, Iraq about the dangers faced by Yazidis: 

On Sunday, one man sat in the courtyard of a temple in Lalish, his face expressing anguish. He was unable to speak. The man next to him explained:

"They captured his whole family," he said. "They made his wife and daughters cover their hair and faces. Then they made them renounce their religion and swear allegiance to Mohammed. After that, they killed them all."

The man had been away from his home at the time of the attack. When he tried to return, he was informed of the executions by his companion who dragged him from the scene as thousands fled to the homes of relatives or to the temple, which is now sheltering thousands.

The United Nations says 200,000 civilians, most of them Yazidis, have fled Sinjar and warned of a burgeoning "humanitarian tragedy." While the majority of Sinjar’s population is Yazidi, there are also some Arabs and Assyrian families.

Read Shelton's piece here.

And here's some background on Yazidis from Foreign Policy:

"Attendants of an 11th-century religion that combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam, and Christianity, the Kurdish-speaking Yazidis have been targeted by the Islamic State for extermination."

UPDATE: 8/8/14 2:08 PM ET

No specific end date for US military strikes in Iraq, White House says

Reuters reports:

President Barack Obama's authorization for limited military action in Iraq could eventually include more military support to Iraqi security forces working to repel Islamic State fighters once the country forms a new "inclusive" government, the White House said on Friday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said initial US support will be on military strikes to protect American personnel working in Iraq, and to address the urgent humanitarian situation on Sinjar mountain.

"The president has not laid out a specific end date," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

"We're going to sort of take this approach in which those kind of decisions are evaluated regularly and are driven by the security situation on the ground as it relates to the safety and security of American personnel but also as it relates to supporting the ongoing efforts of both Kurdish security forces and Iraqi security forces," Earnest said.

UPDATE: 8/8/14 1:57 PM ET

Hundreds of thousands of minorities in Iraq are fleeing the Islamic State

"The Nineveh plains of northern Iraq are home to a diverse mix of minority ethnic and religious groups," writes GlobalPost's Tracey Shelton. "Their roots, their heritage, their homes and their most holy shrines are all right here in this brutal but beautiful land known as the cradle of civilization. But this week, three of these minorities, already persecuted for centuries, have come under the most severe threat to their existence in decades."

Shelton has been on the ground documenting the plight of families. 



A security officer fires warning shots as desperate families attempt to drive around the congested checkpoint. While Shabaks follow a form of Islam, they have been heavily persecuted for centuries and were targeted along with the Kurds during Saddam Hussein’s ethnic cleansing campaigns of the late '80s. Photo by Tracey Shelton/ GlobalPost

UPDATE: 8/8/14 12:38 PM ET

Where the airstrikes are taking place

Bram Janssen, a videographer for The Associated Press, has been live-tweeting airstrikes in Iraq. Follow his tweets @BramJanssen

UPDATE: 8/8/14 11:59 AM ET

Another minority group displaced by the fighting 

Islamic State's offensive in Iraq has displaced thousands of people, including those from the minority Kurdish-Shabak community in the northern part of the country. The photos below by AFP/Getty photographer Marwan Ibrahim show Shabaks receiving water from the Iraqi military.

UPDATE: 8/8/14 11:29 AM ET

UK to drop aid over Iraq, but will not join airstrikes

Agence France-Presse reports:

The British air force will drop food aid to Iraqi refugees fleeing extremists in "the next couple of days," the defense secretary said Friday, although London has ruled out taking military action with the United States. 

The announcement came after the Foreign Office urged Britons in the Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk provinces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region to "leave now" as fighting spreads north.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "extremely concerned by the appalling situation in Iraq and the desperate situation facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis."

"And I utterly condemn the barbaric attacks being waged by ISIL (now Islamic State) terrorists across the region," he said in a statement.

UPDATE: 8/8/14 11:17 AM ET

FAA bans flights over Iraq

The Federal Aviation Administration has halted US airlines from flying over Iraqi airspace.

UPDATE: 8/8/14 10:44 AM ET

For more background on the Islamic State

Watch Vice's documentary The Spread of the Caliphate: The Islamic State, which takes an in-depth look at the group overtaking Iraq: 

UPDATE: 8/8/14 10:14 AM ET

Crucial background on the Islamic State 

Frontline has an excellent Q&A with Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center, on the ascent of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq.

Asked whether the group will attack the West, Lister said, "I think in the immediate future, the only thing the Islamic State will be focused on is maintaining its military momentum, acquiring control of more territory, and most importantly of all, consolidating control and introducing Sharia governance in those areas. I would expect that in its perspective, targeting the west would certainly be a future option."

Read the rest on Frontline.

UPDATE: 8/8/14 10:01 AM ET

What it's like to be displaced by the Islamic State

GlobalPost's Tracey Shelton writes, "Kamrava Refugee Camp is home to 2,500 Iraqis who've fled the Islamic State militants overruning towns in northern Iraq. Their stories are harrowing." 

UPDATE: 8/8/14 9:37 AM ET

Iraqi army chief expects 'huge changes' after US strikes

Agence France-Presse — Iraq's army chief of staff said he expects federal troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces to reclaim large swathes of land after the US began air strikes Friday against jihadist positions.

"There will be huge changes on the ground in the coming hours," Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari told AFP, moments after the Pentagon confirmed its first air raids against the Islamic State.

UPDATE: 8/8/14 8:45 AM ET

So the US is back in Iraq

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby tweeted that the US is striking Islamic State's artillery:

"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help'," US President Barack Obama said in a speech last night as quoted by Reuters. "Well, today America is coming to help."

"We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide," he added.

Obama said he has authorized air strikes and humanitarian air drops.

Many minority Iraqis are suffering without food, water and other basic needs as Islamic State militants seize town after town.

So, how did we get here?

GlobalPost put together a comprehensive 54-step guide on how the choas in Iraq began

Here's the short version: The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, claiming that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had both weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaeda. He had neither. Today, both Saddam Hussein and the United States are gone from Iraq. In their place? Al Qaeda.

Oct. 1, 2002: CIA report alleges Iraq is in possession of WMDs, launching build-up to war


(AFP/Getty Images)

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